Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Melissa Gira Grant

Melissa Gira Grant

Writer, freelance journalist

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Melissa Gira Grant. I'm a writer and freelance journalist, covering sex, tech, and politics. My reporting and commentary appears in The Nation, The Atlantic, Glamour, The Guardian, The New York Times, In These Times, Wired, The Washington Post, Dissent, Slate, and Salon, among other publications. My latest book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, challenges the myths about selling sex and those who perpetuate them.

What hardware do you use?

I've been a Mac user since I was six and forced Print Shop into service as my word processor. My 15" MacBook Pro is my old reliable, but it rarely leaves the house anymore, and (in my first rule for working from home) it never comes to bed. That's what the iPad is for. And embarrassingly near my pillow, the iPhone (a 3GS, still hanging on). Those are the basics.

Every morning, I put together a daily agenda – deadlines, interview appointments, invoices to chase, press to file -- in an extra-large Moleskine plain soft notebook. My desk pen is a refillable Tornado by Retro 51, in red lacquer. Whatever comes of the day, that makes an elegant enough start.

I've kept a journal since I could write, and for the last ten years or so that's been in a series of plain pocket Moleskine notebooks with hardcovers. For taking notes while reporting, I used to use whatever I had on me - sometimes just my journal flipped on its back, writing from the back to meet the personal diary at the front. Now, on features or long-term research, I'll get a set of notebooks dedicated to each project. I stash handfuls of Pilot G2 pens in my bag.

For conducting interviews by telephone or outside the office, I use a Zoom H1 digital audio recorder. It feels natural in the hand, doesn't need to be so intrusively close to a subject, and it works as well in a packed club or on a march as it does on my desk recording a Skype call from my speakers.

I'm a hardware pack rat, or hardware nostalgic maybe. There's no reason to keep the 3Com HomeConnect webcam I used 24/7 as a camgirl over a decade ago, but I am, and I will, until it comes back into style. I still use the same Sony MDR-7506 headphones I've had since 2005, and when Rdio goes offline, I have a Columbia Grafonola which is well over a century old and still runs very well by hand crank. I wish I got to use my Shure 55SH mic more. It's beautiful.

There's also a terabyte backup drive that I actually use, and a half dozen others in a drawer.

And what software?

Writing and reporting is how I spend most of my work time (with the email and social media correspondence required – and sometimes enlivened by – in support of that).

For books and features, I write in Scrivener. I can create and easily modify outlines (usually just a duplicate of the notecards tacked on my office wall), drag my research PDF's in, or photos, or interview transcripts. (Once a story goes my editors, I leave Scrivener and reluctantly move to Microsoft Office for the sake of track-changes.)

For shorter pieces, I write in TextEdit or draft in Mail on my phone in bed or on the subway. I've experimented with writing and editing in SimpleNote, and had some success syncing drafts between Scrivener on my desktop and my phone or iPad, but Mail is where I end up.

Working while mobile, but that's a bit arbitrary, as I still use these too often in my own apartment when I could just reach for my laptop, but I don't: as before Mail and Simplenote, Voice Memos if my Zoom isn't handy, Speak It! (a text-to-speech app, which I use to read me work in progress if I need to pretend there's someone else in the room), Instagram (like Twitter, it's become my notebook).

My own website runs on Wordpress and is hosted by Laughing Squid (and it was designed and developed by Star St. Germain). I send out a weekly email newsletter with my current writing, notes, and a photo of whatever's going on at my desk, made with TinyLetter and Snapseed.

For Glass Houses, the label under which I release limited edition print books, ebooks, and other related objects, I use Sigil and Calibre for ebook development. Pulley serves ebooks to customers, linked to purchases made through the Glass Houses online store at Big Cartel. The Glass Houses mailing list runs on MailChimp.

There's really nothing thrilling to say about email. I label excessively in Gmail to organize myself. I use encrypted mail (here's a good walkthrough). The discipline that Gchat requires during the workday is usually spent elsewhere. (Like not just taking a notebook to Greenwood Cemetery. Or not "answering email" while working through X-Files from the first season onward.)

What would be your dream setup?

To sift through all my accumulated files by theme, by episode in my life, by multiple tags or some other structured annotation that folders are no good for, to walk into a space formed by them like a white-box gallery or the belly of a ship or layers of cool sheets on a bed. I want to find things by how I remembered creating them: all the pieces I wrote mentioning right wing organizations in the Pacific Northwest; or an easy scroll-through of just my webcam archives from December 2001; or, Wikipedia-style compare-drafts of a chapter in progress and all the sections that were cut or forked off.

I want a kind of choice and automation to make up for the fact that I didn't think to set things up that way myself to being with. Emotional directories? For me it's not so much a system I can adhere to as a better way to go about managing my own memories.

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